We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Department of Geography

Staff Profile

Publication details for Professor Mike Crang

Crang, M. Cultural Geographies of Tourism. In: Lew, A., Hall, C.M. & Williams, A. A Companion to Tourism. Oxford: Blackwell; 2004:74-84.

Author(s) from Durham



Cultural geography, with its traditions of studying regional cultures, has tended to position ‘tourism’ as a problem, as something that homogenises local cultures towards one undifferentiated aggregate – an ‘erosion thesis’ where change is seen only as diminishing original cultures and reducing global differences (Hannerz, 1996). However, recent work has tried to open up this grim account in two main directions. First, examining tourism not simply as consuming places but also as a dynamic force creating them – which still leaves room for conflict, exploitation and resistance, but takes a more neutral start-point. Second, looking at the cultures of tourists and seeing how these evolve historically. So rather than dismissing tourism as just ‘a logical extension of the general principle of industrial capitalism to the realm of leisure’ (Böröcz in Koshar, 1998: 325), treating it as a modern culture in and of itself. Tourism mobilises powerful social dreams and desires as the currency in which it trades by offering dream holidays, romance, paradise on earth and so on (Krippendorf 1987). These are social imaginaries, maps of what people believe and hope for – but they are rarely examined as such. As Inglis notes: ‘The dreams are powerful and beautiful. Of course, dedicated dreambusters in their big boots will, correctly, point out the horrors and boredom of actually existing tightly packaged trips, the mutual exploitation of tourist and native’ (Inglis, 2000: 5). In this chapter then I want to sketch how tourist cultures develop rather than engage in the ‘dreambusting’ that tends to characterise academic work which so often exemplifies distaste, treating tourists almost as another species – ‘turistas vulgaris’ (Löfgren, 1999: 264) who travel in ‘herds’, ‘stampede’ onto beaches, ‘flock’ to see places, and ‘swarm’ around ‘honey-pots’.

Analyses of how tourism shapes places can become locked into a ‘coercive conceptual schema’ of tourism ‘impacting’ on local cultures which sees a local culture pitted against a global industry where ‘cultural changes arising from tourism are produced by the intrusion of a superior sociocultural system in a supposedly weaker receiving milieu’ (Picard, 1996: 104, 110). This risks portraying the ‘hosts’ as a bounded, static, undivided and happy culture prior to tourism. Now this is a dubious characterisation of even island destinations – as Picard (below) shows in terms of Bali – but seems cockeyed when we think of places like Las Vegas, Blackpool, or Benidorm, or the city tourist centres of London, New York or Hong Kong. Thus it seems more productive to use:
‘a more culturally complex rendering of tourism’s “consumption” of places, one that sees not merely a globalizing force bearing down upon a once-isolated community, but also the dynamic ways local cultural meanings -which are themselves a product of a dialogue between local and extra-local cultural systems - wrap the tourism experience in an envelope of local meaning.’(Oakes, 1999: 124).
I want to thus start by thinking about what cultural geography can say about the shaping of destinations, about tourism as inventing, making and remaking places.